Two years ago, I wrote a short story that is actually too long to be called a short story and I named it “How, Ever.”
I blogged about it, because writing this story was an experience unlike any I’ve ever had before. I somehow wrote all 15,500 words of it (about 55 pages, for the non-wordcountese speakers) in less than 5 days, and put so much of myself and my life into it that it almost hurt to read back. But at the same time… I didn’t really think about what I was writing. It just came out, like it had been brewing in me for a long time, just waiting for me to say, “Okay, go.”
When writing “How, Ever,” I knew exactly how it would end the whole time. I knew where I was going, and precisely how I would get there. I wrote without flinching.
But I also always knew that I wanted the story to live as something more than just a short story/novelette. To me, it was always a play.
There is something legitimately painful about trying to select the best medium for your story, especially when you could write via several. I’m not saying that I do any of this especially well, but I have written short stories, novels, poems, plays, and screenplays. But when telling a story that’s important to you, I’ve been told that you need to choose wisely.
Two years ago, I basically said screw that and went with prose, because that’s my go-to and I like my comfort zone very much, thank you.
But initially Ever and Will’s story came to me in images. Very sparse, minimalistic images. Not in cinematic montage form—gosh, I didn’t even have any grand ideas for setting (if you’ve read the short story, you will know that I literally based every place Will goes on places from my childhood because I was so focused on just getting the characters down on paper… ain’t nobody got time for setting research), but that actually didn’t matter so much at the time. The most important part of this story, to me, was the people. Will. Ever. Together. Apart.
Their story came to me in images of two figures, one in the light and one in the dark. And that’s how I knew that it was meant to be a play.
For a little context… plays are character/language-driven. They aren’t plot-driven, and anybody who tries to convince you of it is lying lying lying. Or fooling themselves, in which case they deserve your pity and probably need to reevaluate their lives a little bit (not talking about musicals here, because musicals are a different beast entirely). Plays are almost entirely composed of dialogue. They HAVE to be character-driven.
This means that when I write plays, I’m writing to get to know my characters. And I pretty much have no clue where I’ll end up.
Back to “How, Ever.” Right now, in my final college semester, I’m taking Playwriting II. We are required to write a full-length play by the end of the semester. In January, I thought I had no ideas. Then I remembered that two years ago, I’d written this not-short story that I wanted to turn into a play, but not until after I’d let it sit.
I opened the doc again, for the first time since 2012. And I started to think about how I could make Will and Ever’s story, which takes place over the course of 21 years, into a 2.5-hour play. That meant condensing. OR… taking these characters and creating an entirely separate story for them.
So I started storyboarding, and by that I mean I found one random picture that I liked and stared at it for the next several days.
Eventually I came up with an idea, based on this picture. I wanted to know what this girl was looking at, but also why she was in this room that so clearly does not belong to her. I wanted to know about all of the places she would rather be, and who she’d rather be with… and then two more characters popped into my head. One of which is Ever’s older brother, Aaron.
I guess I see the girl in this photo as being sort of Ever-like, but I realized as I was “storyboarding” that I actually knew very little about my own character. I understand her on some levels (I mean, I wrote her), but at the same time… I feel as though I only know as much as Will knows about her (Will being the narrator). And once I started thinking about why Ever was so mysterious all the time, why she was in so much pain in my short story… I realized that she had a family, and she had a horrific past, and maybe she was a walking catastrophe but she had become a fighter because of it.
I sat down, opened a new Word doc, and started a play about four young people. Ever, Will, Aaron, and Aaron’s girlfriend Tatum. They go to the mountains the summer before Ever and Will go to college, to a cabin that once belonged to Ever and Aaron’s abusive father. All of them are looking for something. All of them have secrets. All of them need each other.
The crazy thing is that while I may be writing some of the same characters, characters I know… I’m also writing two new ones. I might have already written 15,500 words about Ever and Will, but now, writing this play, I’m finding out so much about them that I didn’t know before. It’s weird. Weirdly awesome. Weirdly beautiful.
The working title is North Star Children, and I just finished Act I. I guess I’ll get to see how it ends soon? I do have two months to finish it.